WTF Do We Do with Lent?

God isn’t something we can schedule in; God shows up when God is ready

Malachi:

We are a little more than halfway through Lent, a period of time which calls us each to reflect on our relationship with God, and what things we want to change in our lives to deepen that relationship. Often times, people will give something up for Lent- something they feel detracts or distracts from their relationship with God, in order to make space for these reflections.

I’ve never really understood the concept of “giving up something for Lent.” When I was in school, I saw kids giving up red meat, or chocolate, and I didn’t really understand. I interpreted it to mean that Lent was about sacrifice- giving up something you loved as penance or a means of sacrifice to show your love for God. As I got older, I came to understand “giving something up” as a means of creating space. The time and energy we would have devoted to whatever we were giving up, we instead used to focus on prayer or other things that we felt connected us to God and God’s calling in our lives.

But to be honest, I had a hard time with this interpretation and understanding as well. It still has a feel of impermanence to it- we remove something from our lives for a set, finite period of time to make room for God, but then we bring it back into our lives at the end (usually with some sense of relief or enthusiasm that we can have whatever the thing is again). By doing that, it sort of feels like kicking God out again- very

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much a feeling of “I created space and had wonderful reflections, but now I’m going to go back to how my life was before; this was just temporary.” I’m sure that’s not how it feels to those who practice it, but that’s how it has always felt to me.

Anyway, I say all this to say, I don’t really give anything up for Lent because, for me, I haven’t been able to do that in a way that feels congruent with my faith. And yet, here I am, in the middle of this period of Lent, and I find that I am working through many of the same struggles of loss, grieving, and temptation that come from giving something up. Because like all things that we give up, it feels good, initially, to make changes in our lives that are healthy and beneficial…and then we hit a point where it gets hard, and I feel like that’s about the mid-way point of Lent- where we are right now.

So far, this year (2017) has felt like a period of setting down old baggage for me. It has felt like- and continues to feel like- a time to look at my life and recognize those habits, behaviors, and patterns that have not suited me well, and work toward changing them. That’s a tall order, and not as concrete as giving up chocolate, but it feels authentic to my understanding of faith and God in a way that Lent never has.

It’s been important, I think, to do these things- and to continue to do them. I’ve been learning to be more transparent about desire, learning to state (and ask for) what I want from friends and partners, learning to be more vulnerable with people I care about, learning to be more transparent about things as they are happening (rather than jut in retrospect).

I’ve written lately about my life as a poly person, about going on dates with someone new, my issues with sex, and my struggles to be a real, authentic person. These, I think, are some of the culmination of this work I’ve been doing to try to be more honest and intentional about the relationships I have in my life and how I interact with them. I asked someone out on a date (asking for what I wanted) and told them beforehand, “I would be interested in fucking you” (claiming and stating desire). I’ve had a friendship transition into a sexual relationship, and was able to do so in a way that didn’t cause any issues in our polyamorous configurations (being transparent about things happening in the moment). I’ve let friends see me frustrated, sad, weary, but also giddy,

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excited, nervous, and looking forward to things- something I am usually not good at doing, because I don’t like other people seeing me disappointed if the thing I’m excited about never comes to pass (learning to be more vulnerable). I’ve written erotica and sent it to lovers. So many of these things are connected to my sexual and embodied self, but they are also connected to how I live in relationships with others, what I offer and what I give, what I allow others to see and how I choose to interact with the world around me.

And damn, I’m tired. I’m weary. My heart seems to be saying, “radical vulnerability is nice, but you’ve left me open and exposed for a long time now and I think it’d be just as well that we stop all this nonsense and go back to being safe and protected and guarded because I’m tired of being so open all the time.” It’s so easy for the old demons and insecurities to come to the surface. I want a finite period of time where I know I can go back to life the way I have always lived it, and I won’t be weary and tired and afraid of vulnerability.

But the truth is, I don’t actually want to go back. I want to move forward to a point where these things aren’t terrifying because I have moved through them. I want to create more permanent space in my life- to actually learn how to be authentic and lay down some of this baggage for good. I want the ways in which I’m shifting to stick around for awhile, even if the journey getting there is difficult. I don’t want to lose this period of reflection and contemplation. I don’t want to give up Lent after Lent.

The “moving through” part is the hard part. Being present in the discomfort of change. Allowing yourself to feel loss- even if the things that you are letting go of are toxic and unhealthy, there is still loss. Before we figure out how to do it better, before we figure out how to fill the space, there is an emptiness, a hole where we have set one thing down but

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haven’t picked something else up yet, and we realize exactly how tired we are.

It’s easy to cling to the devil we know. But in this period, we are encouraged to consider and contemplate how we might strengthen our relationships with ourselves and with God. And so, as I continue to put

down some of my old baggage, as I continue to intentionally work to change unhealthy habits, as I struggle to navigate situations in ways that are not damaging or toxic, I think about this period of Lent. The midway point. Because even though these things don’t stop for me when Lent ends, it’s a good reminder to me that change is not always easy, or comfortable.

At some point, things get hard, and that becomes the part where we are actually making space. Do we allow those things which are hard, which push us, which ask us to stretch and grow to move us further away from God? Or do we allow these things to change us in ways that deepen and strengthen our relationship with God? Do we move in ways that are authentic to our callings, or do we move in ways that are more comfortable to our habits? This period of Lent- or whatever period of time you take to intentionally reflect on your relationship with the Holy- asks that we create space in our lives with intention, and find ways to hold that space beyond just the time we have set aside.

Strengthening our relationship with God is not something we can do for finite periods of time. God isn’t something we can schedule in; God shows up when God is ready to. All we can do is work to prepare a place, to cultivate space in our hearts for when we feel that small voice stirring. Because before we can follow our calls, we must first be willing to listen.

Robin:

revrobin2-023In the past week or so I have been having trouble staying focused in my writing. I have felt pulled in several directions; I have more interests than I have time to write about them all, or at least that is how it feels. I had begun to feel overwhelmed, sometimes even despairing, wondering what kind of writer am I? What might be my signature, what subject or genre is most central to me as a writer?

A conversation with Malachi helped me see that this might be an outcome of my Lenten fast this year. I pledged not to partake of those internal messages that say I am not capable of responding to the call on my soul to be the writer God creates me to be.

What if, as a result of not letting old messages shape my life, my vision, I am becoming more open to all my possibilities?

This would surely reflect my long-time view of Lent as a time of growth rather than solely a time of penitence.  I am not opposed to penitence or penance, and certainly benefit from deep inner reflection and owning my shortcomings. But too often, in my experience, Lent is seen as a time of punishment—feeling often to me like a time of beating up on ourselves, even beating our bodies, for the guilt of Good Friday to come again, and our continuing participation, or at least complicity, in violence and oppression.

Be love for Lent
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Instead of punishment, however, I have found that Lent provides an opportunity to go deeper into spiritual truth, and to be changed by experiencing that truth. In my case, right now, I feel I am being given an opportunity to make conscious choices about the nature of my work as a writer.

That is an extraordinary gift for someone who has long been engaged in work that, while good and often productive and even satisfying in many respects, did not reflect who I am deep in my soul. As I continue to move more fully into claiming writing as my vocation, my ministry, my calling, it seems I am being given a menu of options so I can, with God’s help, shape my life to reflect more of what is most important to me. This may seem easy, but at the moment I am really having to probe deeply into my soul to learn what matters most. The reality, hard to face, is that I cannot focus on all the topics in which I have an interest, nor can I work in all the genres I might wish to try.

Your body is preciousLent this year, then, has become about discernment.  One thing that clear to me is that my interests—theological/spiritual, poetic, creative—center in bodies:  Feeling bodies, dead bodies, Black bodies, brown bodies, LatinX bodies, queer bodies, Trans bodies, male-born bodies, female-born bodies, white bodies, naked bodies, sexy bodies, Palestinian and Israeli bodies, Gazan bodies, Sudanese bodies, Asian bodies, Native bodies, aging and aged and wrinkled and sagging bodies, polyamorous bodies, young (younger than me at least) buff and not-so-buff bodies, skinny bodies, fat bodies, smooth bodies, suffering bodies, malnourished and distended bodies, hairy bodies, lesbian bodies, gay bodies, bi-racial and bisexual bodies, and the whole rainbow of precious, godly, human bodies.

And my body, too.

In that regard, I received a jolt. It began about ten days ago as a result of the nudist party about which I wrote last week (Can Prayer Be Erotic?)

The experience I described in that post as well as my reflection on it, touched and enlarged my awareness of how much nudism or naturism means in my life. A journalist visiting that gathering interviewed many of us about our attitudes toward and experience of nudism, and when I told her I am a theologian and retired pastor she probed me about the spirituality of nakedness. During our conversation I told her I had wondered if I might write as The Naked Pastor (or Preacher).  She asked if she could quote me, and do so with my full name (some at the gathering wanted her to use other names). I said “yes” to both. I have no idea when or where or even if her piece will be published.

And then, two days ago, as I read a blog post from a man who writes about being naked in a wide variety of situations (The Naked Jade), it came to me that what I might really want is to be The Naked Theologian.

The Naked Theologian? Yikes! Would that mean pictures of me naked, like The Naked Jade, while writing, speaking or teaching (where would that be)? And what would my husband, my family, say, and my church? Would they, the church, even let me in the door, let alone continue as Writer-Theologian in Residence? Would anyone take me seriously?

Prior Lake Robin
This is the body of a theologian

Such concerns, anxiety—okay, fear—arise from two sources. One is that my body, unlike Jade’s, is far from photogenic. I have wrinkles and sagging skin (I am 70 after all) and am very far from well-endowed. And the second may be even more fundamental: people, especially most religious people, are not open to nudity as an acceptable public presence (heck, a lot of people don’t even feel comfortable with nudity in private).

I do not know where this will end up, but I feel I need to stay in this exploration, this journey, to become the me I am called to be.  On that way, I am reminded of a Celtic prayer:

Awaken my senses this day
to the goodness that stems from Eden.
Awaken my senses this day
to the goodness that can still spring forth
in me and all that has life.

The goodness that stems from Eden . . . . hmmm . . . this contradicts what I learned in Sunday school and in the church of my youth. What I heard was that although Eden may have been beautiful, bad things happened there. Stay away from Eden.  In fact, much of the Lenten tradition that I identify with punishment seems to flow from that view of Eden.

However, perhaps I am being given a new view. Maybe Lent is really about rooting ourselves in the joy and hope and pleasure of Eden, so we can walk in wholeness and love with Jesus wherever he leads?

Happy Lent, anyone? Or Naked Lent? Or at least Loving Lent, Holy Lent, Joyous Lent?

Whatever. I hope your Lent is as interesting and filled with sacred possibilities as mine.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you experience Lent? Is it a time of openness to new things in your life, or a time to revisit comforting ideas or practices from the past? Does it feel like rules or a holy pilgrimage? What are you “giving up” or moving away from during Lent this year? What are you hearing from God? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

What A Good Fuck

If we sacrifice our joy for their fear, then we have given them the power to conquer our hearts.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

This has been a chaotic, terrifying week in many respects. To be honest, so much has happened that it’s hard to hold onto everything- the most apparent issue, at the moment, is the Muslim ban imposed by Donald Trump, but it is certainly not the first of many questionable, objectionable, and (in my opinion) immoral actions since his inauguration a week and a half ago.

In light of this, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We are all expending so much emotional energy on the issues of the day- calling representatives to encourage them to block Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, or supporting people still fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or making signs and showing up to airport protests, or fighting to keep Planned Parenthood funded, or simply trying to make it through the day- it can be hard to find space in our lives for anything that isn’t pressing in this moment. And every moment seems to bring a new pressing issue, until it is easy to feel fatigued, overwhelmed, and burnt out. Sometimes, it feels like we have nothing left to give to the issues that are coming, and we don’t have the capacity to spend time and energy on issues that are not front-and-center.

How, then, do we maintain relevance in our discussions of sexuality and bodies? How do we ask people to care about something that, while important, isn’t making the news cycles time and again?

As an avid lover of West Wing, there is a quote that comes in one of the later seasons: “Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.” It is something that has stuck with me, because I see us at a crossroads now, one in which we are marshalling our strength and energy for the long fights ahead, and we need to put our resources where they will have the most impact. And quite frankly, I understand those who might feel that the inclusion of eros, the focus on sexuality, the self-acceptance of our own bodies, the drive to welcome other bodies might seem important, but can be left behind in favor of more pressing issues.

And yet… at the same time, I think when we look around at the issues that are coming up
and the fights that are building, to not have the discussions around bodies and sex leaves us at a loss for connectivity but, more importantly, loses sight of a key point that interconnects so many of the issues. Most obviously, we exist and enter the world through our physical manifestations- our bodies- and through our bodies do we find our voice. But more importantly, we note that so many of these assaults are assaults on bodies: on women, on people of color, on manifestations of religion, on restrictions to our sexuality. The issues Robin and I seek to address are at the center of the national debate, if only we as a community and country are willing to see them.

So why is it important that we continue to come back to bodies, to sex, to eros, to love, to faith?

Because our bodies are our mechanism of resistance. They are the forms that we take to protests, they are the voices with which we call our representatives and speak our truthscivil-disobedience, they are the hands with which we carry signs and sign petitions, they are minds that debate the role and use of violence and the bodies that carry those beliefs to actions, they are the skin that faces undue prejudice directly proportional to the amount of melanin present, they are the configurations of trans and gender nonconforming bodies that face violence. Our bodies have been weaponized, some of them against our will.

We run the risk of becoming cold, hardened, robotic. In the frenzy of back-to-back protests and social media explosions and fights with in-laws and a constant barrage of bad news, we become desensitized and, ultimately, burnt out. Our bodies become tools, rather than whole, complex, organic beings. Our mechanisms for self-care become more vital to stave off the fatigue. Self-care is important, and we cannot let the urgency of the news of the day crowd out the importance of self-care.

And how do we find self-care? In so many ways, but for many, that care may come through connection, and one means of connection is our sexual selves. In the article, “Queer Sex is Our Greatest Act of Resistance,” Alex Gamer talks about the how our sexual selves are part of our resistance. In response to fear, he says, “Now is the time to be unapologetically queer and that must include our sex. When we fuck it has value and meaning and no policy or lawmaker can ever take that away from us.”

For me, “fucking” is an act of defiance. “Fucking” is also different than “intimacy,” “making love,” or “having sex.” Perhaps the crassness of the language is offputting to some, but I personally believe there is a time and a place to use certain language, and “fuck” as a term of passionate, visceral, raw exchange of sexual energy is a powerful word in the face of censorship.

Recently, I wrote the following piece, “Fuck Me Fiercely” about fucking as an act of resistance, about harnessing the raw power of anger and drive into sexual relations. Content warning: it uses plenty of crass language, but that is also the intent.

Fuck me fiercely, like your hands and lips and cock are instruments of dissent. I want to hear your guttural, the sounds in your throat that echo orgasm and rage.

Fuck me like fucking is an act of defiance, an unapologetic stand, a shameless gauntlet thrown down to the streets.

Fuck me like “Fuck You!” sounds when it’s screamed like war cries. Hold my hips like you are holding my hand and running into the fire.

Fuck me with the passion of enough. Fuck me like fucking is adrenaline embodied, like we are fighting back by loving fiercely, loving recklessly, loving fully.

Fuck me like we do not have the luxury of fear. Like this moment, right here, is the dawn before the storm and we are fucking because we are alive, right now, and we do not have the privilege to expect tomorrow.

Fuck me like fucking is courageous. Like fucking is how we scream.

Fuck me with planning and care that goes to hell when the firebombs start. Fuck me like fucking is surviving and we are survivors, like we would fuck in the streets just to piss off someone who couldn’t stand the sight of you and me.

Fuck me like rebels and anarchists and radicals. Fuck me like you know the taste and shape of those words, how they fit in your mouth, and fuck with me the passion with which you left them behind.

Fuck me like you’re picking them up again.

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Our bodies, how we relate to one another and ourselves is a part of our self-care, to combat the fatigue and daily assaults on who we are and how we live. They are the moments when we unravel and show our fear and vulnerability. They are the beating heart of who we are, and without that sense of connection to ourselves and one another, we would be little more than robots, constantly fighting with no end in sight, no moments of joy, no sense of solidarity and connection, no sense of being seen.

When we are seen and embraced, then we are able to relax, recharge, refuel. For some, this comes by means other than sex, particularly those who are asexual. But for others, the act of sex- the act of fucking- is where we can unwind and unravel, fall apart and put ourselves back together again. It is a moment that cannot be taken away by politics and fearmongering. It is the essence of being wholly, truly present, and in the moments after, we find ourselves truly alive.

Our bodies are more than tools; they are instruments that we play to the beat of the music we expose ourselves to. Sometimes it is chanting at a protest, sometimes it is challenging problematic language, and sometimes it’s the pure pleasure of being present.

We cannot ignore or minimize the discussions of our bodies, our sexuality, our eros, in these discussions. They are central to the assaults, yes, but they are also essential to the healing that comes so that we may persevere and thrive, regardless of the constant propaganda that we should be ashamed of who we are. We must not forget to live, to breathe, the embrace and enjoy the life we have now. If we forget to do that, they have won. If we sacrifice our joy for their fear, then we have given them the power to conquer our hearts.

Fuck fiercely. Love wholly. Embrace yourself and those around you. Find intimacy. Show people unconditional love. And never let the urgent news of the day diminish the need for important, radical self-care.

Robin:

revrobin2-023I am dismayed and distraught, and angry, at the flurry of orders that are passing for a working government in the ten days since the Presidential inauguration. It feels to me like we have an adult child who is playing a role, surrounded by people who either are afraid to tell him to stop or who also proceed from an immature understanding of the exercise of power and authority. Even more, some of those orders are having immediate negative consequences for people caught in the web of suspicion and fear that marks new national policies and priorities.

And yet I refuse to be governed by fear, my own as well as that driving the man who holds the title of President. I also refuse to be governed by anger, even though I will tap into it to claim my power to push back against fear.  I learned long ago, from my old friend and mentor, Beverly Wildung Harrison, about the power of anger in the work of love.

I remember the 1960s when some said “make love not war.” Often, they meant, stop the fighting and have sex, stop beating people up and fuck instead. But there also was an edge to this, because they were angry about the senseless loss of life–not only U.S. service personnel but also the people of Vietnam and Cambodia. I remember the first time I heard “fuck” said in public was at an anti-war rally at the University of Michigan in 1966–and the speaker drew a contrast between two kinds: the one where both parties are enjoying it and the other where one is getting off at the expense, the dignity, the life/lives, of the other.

make-love-not-war-maniacjoe-comSo, in my fear and anger, I remember I am called to love. And I am called to love, to fuck, in the first way with my husband, and to use the desire for community and care which is part of that to love others, too, as I do my part to resist a certain Bully in Chief before he does more of the second (which is not love only fuck without any care for those he violates).

You may think I, a 70-year-old married clergyman, have gone off the deep end, talking about sex in the midst of our national angst. We can talk about bodies—e.g., the immigrants’ bodies are being mistreated, and the bodies of those who lose health care will surely be adversely affected —and we surely can talk about spirit or spirituality. This focus on keeping people from countries with a Islamic majority in its citizenry out of our nation violates our long, and clearly continuing, struggle for religious tolerance and openness. That struggle reflects our national spirit from the days of Jefferson and Madison and many others. And that struggle against intolerance and prejudice is consonant with values in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam of welcoming and caring for the stranger, the sojourner, in the land.

But what about sex? Is it even appropriate, at times like these, to admit we’re having sex? And forget about admitting is: Is it even appropriate to be sexual at all? Can we have fun in the bedroom, or wherever, when there is so much angst? And if we are engaging in sexual activity, and we want to talk about it, what language do we use?

My answer to both questions—whether to have sex and whether to admit it—is an unequivocal yes! Here’s why I feel so strongly about this (some thoughts on language a little later).

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Oliver Rath artistic nudes, peace sign, Friedenskonferenz (courtesy of rath-photografie.de)

A time of difficulty is precisely a good time to feel the power of one’s own body and soul. To acknowledge, and draw upon, our own erotic power provides a sense of well-being and stability at times when both are in question.  The strength of our response to trouble(s) can be enhanced by how well we are connected to others, especially other loved ones, as well as our own inner and embodied selves.

The more all of us, whatever our orientation(s), understand the power of the erotic to guide our lives into wholeness the better people we will be and the safer and saner the world will be. Fucking, including our self-pleasuring, is a delight for us and our partners and is a vital way to heal the planet and our nation and ourselves. It also is an expression of embodied power.

The reason for this is the exchange of energy that happens when we are erotically engaged—whether it is solo or coupled or group or monogamous or polyamorous or “vanilla” or BDSM, or anything else.

We must talk about, even celebrate, these exchanges—because we cannot give all the conversational space over to those who are creating the angst and anger, or even to those of us who engage in resistance. Indeed, resistance really depends on our being centered and strong. When we deny our erotic core, even in the cause of working and witnessing for justice and peace, we weaken our participation. I am reminded of a saying attributed to 20th Century socialist/anarchist Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

emma-goldman-300x185Authoritarian regimes, fascist movements, even fundamentalist religious and political movements and leaders, want to keep people under control. They do not want sprouts of life to emerge, they do not want joy to bud unless it is the sort authored by the power they create and use to bring what they consider order to society.

Thus, our resistance to control needs not only to be direct opposition—protests, marches, letter-writing, phone calls, etc.—but also expressions of alternative visions of life, ways of bearing witness to how God calls us to connect with each other, with all others, in love and hope and gratitude for life. A key mechanism of connection is eros, acknowledging and acting on our desire to be in positive, healthy relation with all that is life-giving.

God is not as interested in order as in fullness of life, nor, I believe, is God’s sense of order too much like ours—which is why the uprising within ourselves of desire, sometimes seeming to come at odd or inconvenient moments or in ways we may not always understand, can seem disorderly.  But in God’s realm, such moments are very much in order.  Indeed, in the midst of this writing, I felt a powerful urge to masturbate, a desire to which I yielded in joy and gratitude all the way to feeling divine energy rising in and out through my cock.  I know it helped me get clearer about what I want and need to say (and that is not far from the first time that has happened).

I-want-you-inside-me
http://quotesgram.com/

That does not mean we have to have sex with everyone, and it certainly does not mean coercing others to engage in something not agreeable to them, but it does mean that we find ways to express the erotic through our bodies, spirits, and minds. I know a couple who have been partnered for quite some time who are now seeing a sex therapist to deal with fears and blockages in their intimate life. This couple just recently experienced anal intercourse in a way they had long avoided, and it is opening them up to more—right in the midst of their own fears over the way the country is moving.

I also think we need to pay attention to our language. Malachi and I generally avoid using “street language” here, while at the same time trying to be honest. I used “fuck” above for the first time here (by me) because I believe at a time of crisis, a time of widespread angst and anger, our language must be direct. We don’t need to be rude, but we can claim the power not only of our bodies but also our language.

I try not to use the term “fuck” to connote negative situations (I choose not to say, “Fuck You” in anger, including even about major political figures with whom I am very angry), because it is a good earthy term to describe a powerful experience that is intended, by God I believe, to bless us and our partner(s).  So when others are hurting people through their policies and actions, I believe a good fuck creates powerful, authentic energy. That’s the same way I feel about sucking, and jerking off, and licking, not to mention names for body parts that convey connection deeper than formal medical anatomical terms.

god-loves-sex-dashhouse-com
DashHouse.com

I continue to believe that the church has missed major opportunities over two millennia to engage the sexual, the sensual, the erotic, in powerful ways to show people how God works in and through us. Our Jewish roots are far more earthy than Christian theology and practice has recognized.  I believe Jesus would be talking about sex, certainly sharing ways to resist modern-day Pharaohs through our embodied presence and action and challenging the sex phobia of so much religious teaching.

In these times, let us get real, and let us undermine the powers that seek to control by celebrating, even flaunting, our freedom, our call to be the whole people God wants us to be—including our genitals and the entirety of our bodies (every square inch of which are, at least some times, glorious erogenous zones).

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Did you participate in a local march or action? Did you feel included or did you feel “othered” by those around you? What are your thoughts on protest in the coming weeks, months, and years? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.

Celebrating All the Holy Bodies

This is the season of the outcasts . . .

Note: Malachi and Robin are taking a break next week, in service to caring for our own sex, bodies, and spirit. We return January 4. 

Robin: 

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Joyous Yule!! Beautiful Solstice!revrobin2-023

“Tis the season of merriment, love, joy, singing, overeating and drinking, and exclamation points. I mean, it’s Christmas!

And yet, not everyone is feeling the warmth or blessing. There is stress, and worse. For many, going home for the holidays is fraught with anxiety, a time to have to deal with alcoholic or abusive or just unpleasant relatives. And of course, many people have no home to go to—whether homeless people seeking shelter under a bridge or on a heat vent, or Queer youth have been kicked out of their homes.

I don’t mean to be a downer, a Scrooge—Jonathan and I are blessed to be spending about a week in Brooklyn with our three daughters and their families—but at Sex, Bodies, Spirit, we are aware that there are bodies who are not so warmly embraced by the Spirit of Christmas or the lights and latkes of Hanukkah.

starbucks-red_holiday_cups_2016_resizedFirst, there is the War on Christmas, now won, by his own declaration, by President-elect Trump. Some people may feel relieved, or even safer, by this “victory,” but even now I tend to steer clear of Starbucks from October through December. I worry, too, when I go to Target and other big name stores.  There’s nothing like the spirit of Christmas to get people arguing about important things, such as the greetings of store clerks and coffee containers. My body carries a certain level of anxiety about all this whenever I go out into the world of commerce (including my refusal to give money to the Salvation Army, despite their good work, because of their institutional homophobia and transphobia).

But of course, my friend Tyrone the Pennyman, who panhandles at the Greenbelt Metro Station, knows a lot more about embodied anxiety. He sits many days on a ledge outside the station, saying, over and over, “pennies, pennies, pennies” to the streams of riders coming and going. Occasionally, someone stops and gives him something—and he has some regulars, like me, who stop to chat, providing encouragement and a buck or two, or perhaps five.

penniesHe has been doing this for some years he tells me, after his career as a merchant failed, and the evidence—ragged clothes, torn umbrella, many missing teeth, a tattered bag or two—seems clear: he is not making a killing no matter how high the market goes. Ho! Ho! Ho! sticks in my throat, my heart.

And yet—despite what seems to be a ravaged body—his smile, his warmth and grace, as we greet each other reflect what I experience as the beauty of Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule (and Ramadan, which sometimes comes in December) all rolled into one.  Every body, every single body, no matter how tattered and worn, carries God’s beauty.

As I reflect on Tyrone’s beauty—and tens of thousands,  probably hundreds of thousands, of others struggling to stay alive on our streets—I think of the paintings of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and the shepherds and angels, the cattle and sheep, the whole cast. The family was not exactly homeless, but they did not have a hospital bed for the birth, and no one in the neighborhood knew them.  Still, they were all beautiful, including the innkeeper and all those unnamed, unknown folks living nearby.

meetup-logo-fontI went to a holiday party last weekend at the home of someone I had never met. I had a wonderful time, having found the party on Meetup. The group, Birds of a Feather, is a clothing optional/nudist  group that gathers monthly for social time (not sex).  All those bodies, men and women, gay, straight, bi (don’t think there were any trans folks but the host is hopeful someday), were beautiful.

I confess I was sad to put my clothes on when it came time to leave.  I like being naked. I mention this because during our eight-day holiday trip, I will not be naked—other than in bed. Going home, or gathering with loved ones, can sometimes carry a price—this one quite small compared to the joy we will share.

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But as I reflect on that, I think of the young woman who wrote for advice in the Washington Post about how to balance her love for her live-in boyfriend and the condemnation by her parents and her pastor of their “sin.” She comes from a fundamentalist Christian family, and she had not yet told her parents about the change in her life. She was afraid, so she procrastinated. Then, her pastor found out, and, behind her back, told her parents. Now, she is faced with choices: kick the boyfriend out, continue “living in sin” and be tried by the church, or leave the church on her own.

Leaving aside the unprofessional—I think outrageous—conduct by the pastor, I mourn how little Happy Christmas there will be in that family. How many homes are there like that? So many.

For example, this week, a friend of mine, who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter in northwest D.C., told me that one of the social work interns, a young man from New York, told him about Catholic priests in his hometown who counsel families of LGBT youth to kick their children out of the house. I knew several young people selling their bodies on the streets of Richmond, victims of this by their families in other parts of Virginia.

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This is undoubtedly the main reason LGBT youth, and older folks too, constitute a higher than expected proportion of street people. I just wonder if the priests, and parents, have really read either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Or thought about how they act in a way contrary to Joseph and his response to Mary (first by declining to have her stoned, and then, listening to divine inspiration, marrying her and helping to raise their son)?

According to the gospel writer Luke, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem in order to be registered, or counted, in the first census, ordered by Emperor Augustus.  We in the United States may think of the census today as a rather benign thing, unless, of course, we are undocumented persons. In some ways, in the days of Jesus, most people were undocumented, at least by the lights of the Roman occupiers. Every body needed to be counted, to make it clear that Rome had control. Bodies were under threat all the time.

israeli-checkpoint-2The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem may not seem that far, but for a woman in late pregnancy, riding on a donkey, it cannot have been easy. Nor is it today, pregnant or not. Journeying from Nazareth in the nation of Israel to Bethlehem in the West Bank is not without hurdles, always the potential for trouble, especially if your papers are not right, or even if something over which you have no control goes wrong. Bodies are still under threat today.

So, as I ponder this holy and spiritual time for so many, and feel some joy myself, I am simultaneously aware that the only justice that really works is that which is abundantly and equally for all holy bodies created in the image of God. With my Jewish siblings, I celebrate that the oil lasted for eight days, and pray somehow the light never goes out—that all bodies will be seen and touched and healed and cared for, and loved as Jesus was loved, in all their glory.

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nTis the season… of Yule and Chanukah, of Christmas and gift-giving, of a time when we are encouraged to think of those around us (with our wallets, certainly, but also in a marked elevation of kindness and goodwill toward others). It is a time intended to be celebratory and full of laughter, but more often than not, leaves us feeling somewhat stressed and (although we rarely say this out loud), wishing for the season to hurry up and come to a close.

And so, as we draw ever-closer to our celebrated holiday(s) of choice, the time seems to move far too fast (we need to pick up those last-minute presents and clean the house and wrap the gifts and…and…and…), for many, this time can also bring a level of dread and stress that is not necessarily associated with the pressures of living in a capitalistic economy.

I remember Christmas with my family growing up. As a child, I was immune to many of the microaggressions my lesbian parents experienced, including one aunt’s tirade against the sinful nature of my mothers’ relationship and who bought presents for whom, depending on whether they were considered “real” family or not. My parents worked extra-hard to make the holidays perfect; they made up for the awkwardness by being super-hosts. The tree was trimmed and underneath was bursting with more presents than any family needed; the family recipes were made to perfection; the house was spotless; and I was cleaned up and in some appropriately-adorable seasonal attire, walking around ensuring everyone’s drinks were full and passing out presents from under the tree. Hello, lesbian Hallmark dream.mommy-mama-and-me

As a parent now, I understand the pressures of trying to do these things with a child, struggling to remain authentic while wanting her to experience the magic of the holidays. Our tree has been up and trimmed since early December, and I have watched (and contributed) to the growing piles of presents under the tree, torn between joy at recreating the beautiful moments of my own queer childhood and struggling with the myths that are perpetrated in this recreation.

We are not a wealthy family, but we are able to make ends meet, for the most part. Buying presents is certainly not the easiest thing to budget in, but we have tried. This year, we (myself, my partner, and our 8 year old goddaughter) will be spending Christmas with my lovely sister and her wife, their two children, and two of my mothers.  And as overjoyed as I am to have this time with them, I also feel the anxiety building. They live an entirely different type of life than we do, and I wonder about the awkwardness to which I am no longer immune: bringing a child (who is not my biological child, but still my child in every other sense of the word) to my family Christmas, a child that will blurt out things that will most likely make me stutter and blush, that doesn’t really have a grasp of table manners or indoor volume or general neatness, who my parents are (understandably) struggling to understand their relationship to her…

Whoever said we recreate our childhoods must have been laughingly looking into the future of my own experiences.

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And yet, I am blessed beyond belief. I am blessed with assurances of a roof over my head and (awkward or not), my chosen family welcomed with open arms. I think of those who cannot or will not interact with their families of origin because they have been kicked out or refuse to be inauthentic. I think of those who disguise their lovers as “friends” or “roommates” (as my parents did for many years) in order to maintain a family connection. I think of the child whose family cannot afford presents this year, or the child who doesn’t get to see their family much because they are working multiple jobs to keep the lights on and the heat going. I think of those who are on the streets as the weather turns cold, whether by their own choice or because they were kicked out.

This blog is a blog on sexuality and bodies. And while it may not seem relevant to the despairing hope and unexpected blessings of the holiday season, our bodies, our queerness, our sex and sexuality are an integral part of who we are, and we can’t just leave that part behind when we are with family. It’s having a couple split up, one in the spare bedroom and one on the couch, because “we won’t tolerate sinful behavior in this house.” It’s packages addressed to the wrong name containing clothes that are for the wrong gender because “you’ll always be my daughter.” It’s the stutter and questioning face a family member makes when they go to introduce your partner: “This is…uhh, well… this is Joe’s, ummm… this is Joe’s friend.”

Because after the holidays are over, and the thank you cards are written, and we return to the quiet normalcy of our homes (having now stuffed more stuff into dusty corners)… we look across the room at our partners. We look in the mirror at ourselves. We watch our children, and we sit in our homes and we feel the sense of sadness and loss. If our own families cannot give us unconditional love, how do we come to understand God’s

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love for us?

Many have come to understand the story of the birth of Jesus as a miracle of God: a savior born of a virgin. I, personally, do not see the story that way. For me, I see a powerful lesson in this season: that those who have strayed from the expectations of society are unconditionally loved. That a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock bore a Savior in her womb. That regardless of the conditions under which she came to conceive, she was chosen to bring light forth into the world.

This is the season of the outcasts. This is the season where people from different religions, class systems, sexual practices, ages, abilities, and possessions come together to celebrate life. So for those of you struggling with no room at the family inn, this season is for you. For those of you who live outside the expectations of sexual expression, this season is for you. For those of you who are working jobs that most people disdain (be it shepherds or fast food workers or sewage cleaners), this season is for you. For those of you who come together to celebrate community and togetherness, regardless of your religious and spiritual backgrounds, this season is for you. Celebrating the birth and story of Jesus is radically embracing the crossing of social norms- something Jesus himself came to embody in his ministry.

So to all of us, and to all of you struggling this holiday season, this season is for you. Not because of gifts or awkward in-laws or uncomfortable conversations with the Republican cousin, but because, from birth to death, Jesus crossed nearly every social norm he could, and God continues to claim him as God’s own. I am reminded of the Avalon song, “Orphans of God.”   I close with the chorus of this incredible song, reminding us that there are no orphans of God.

“There are no strangers,
There are no outcasts,
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah,
There are no orphans of God.”

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, January 19th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.

Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.

  • October 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 3, is available here
  • September 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2, is available here
  • August 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 1” is available here.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Fetishes, Fluidity, and Frankness

Malachi: I am heterosexual. Actually, I guess it’s heteroflexible. Now it’s bisexual, then full-blown lesbian. Well, pansexual maybe fits better. Except, no. I think, queer. Yes, queer.

I’m a girl. Or, no. I’m 13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nandrogynous. Zie and hir pronouns, please. Only, I think I am a boy. Testosterone and male pronouns now. Except I hate passing, but love my facial hair. Plus, I’d like to have kids someday. So, maybe no more testosterone, but I’ll keep the beard. Masculine pronouns are fine, but gender-neutral also work: they/them please. Dangit, I think my gender is just queer, too.

For many people, identity is a spectrum rather than a fixed point. As a mathematician, I think in terms of continuous and discrete: my identities are fluid and continuous, but at discrete moments in time, I can pinpoint how I identify.

I feel very strongly that I am the compilation of every person I have ever been, even if I no longer identify in some of those ways. I am not, for example, heterosexual- but at one point in my life, I strongly held that identity and it was crucial to how I understood how I fit into the world. Although I do not (and have not) identified as straight for quite some time, I recognize and appreciate the place that identity had in my life: as the child of lesbian parents, I wanted desperately to be normal and fit it. My heterosexuality was my rebellion, my assertion of my independence, my declaration that I was different from my parents.

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Of course, that didn’t particularly stick, and I fell head-over-heels for a woman my freshman year of high school. From there, my identity seemed to ping-pong back and forth for a while, and I finally settled on bisexual. But then I learned about gender theory and came to a better understanding of my own gender. I realized quickly that “bisexual” didn’t make a whole lot of sense because my gender wasn’t a fixed entity, so “attraction to same and attraction to different” held no meaning for me. Everyone was different from me, so I must be straight, except that didn’t work, because I was attracted to people with the same genital configuration.

Around this time, I discovered the term “pansexual.” It felt better than bisexual, but still a little clunky and awkward in my mouth. From there, I grew to have a better understanding and self-definition of queer, and finally settled on “queer” as both a sexual and a gender identity.

This is not every person’s experience, but I think that we spend a lot of time trying to understand where we fit in the boxes we are offered. As a trans person, I have had several experiences in which a person and I had a sexual connection, and then they immediately began to struggle: in order to validate their own identity (particularly a binary identity), they had to invalidate mine (e.g. men who claimed heterosexuality or women who were lesbians needed to see me as female in order to not have an identity crisis).

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I have found that identity and attraction can get complicated, particularly when trans people are involved. There are so many levels and facets to what makes us attracted to a particular person- are we attracted to a masculine or feminine presentation? Are we attracted to a particular genital configuration? Are we attracted to the particular way someone carries themselves?

The reality is, identity is complicated and tough to navigate sometimes. And when our identities are based on our relationship to other people, it becomes a lot harder to avoid invalidating one person’s identity in order to affirm the other person’s.

Understanding where our attraction comes from and why we are attracted to what/whom we are attracted to is important. It also helps differentiate between an attraction preference and a fetish.

I really love people’s backs. It’s almost always one of the things that I love on a person’s body. But I have to like the person attached to the back. It becomes a fetish when the person is no longer a factor in the attraction.

As a trans person, I have experienced first hand (many, many times) what it feels like to be fetishized. I have felt the distinction of someone who wanted to sleep with me because of the anomaly of my presentation rather than for who I am.

This is not, of course, to say that there is anything wrong with having a particular fetish. We have to make sure, however, that when our fetishes are based on a person (rather than an object, such as shoes or rope or lingerie) that we do not dehumanize or objectify the person.

Our identities shift and change, as do our sexual preferences. The identities I have carried are the result of exposure to new ideas, conversations about those ideas, and self-analysis around what those ideas mean to me. And it’s taught me that there are straight men who will sleep with trans guys, and still feel totally comfortable in their heterosexuality because they are attracted to a certain genital configuration, but can be totally respectful of someone’s identity. And there are gay men who will sleep with trans men and feel totally comfortable in their homosexuality, because they are attracted to the physical presence of someone, and don’t care what the genital configuration looks like. And there are people who want to sleep with trans people for the novelty of the juxtaposition between physical appearance and genital configuration. The first two, I have found to be

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wonderful and not particularly limiting to a person’s sexual identity or expression. The third, however, becomes a much more problematic perspective because it treats a trans person like an interchangeable object- any trans person will due.

Understanding where attraction comes from and what we are attracted to about a person goes a long way to understanding when our attractions fall outside of our expectations, and help keep us from fetishizing another person. Self-awareness is what makes the predominantly heterosexual man sleep with a trans man and feel completely comfortable about his identity and the identity of his male lover, rather than invalidating his lover’s identity to reassure his own masculinity.

Of course, this can all be applied to women, and trans people as well. It’s an important aspect of our sexual selves that we need to be aware of because sometimes, our own sense of sexual attraction takes us by surprise. These labels are great, but in a comment on last week’s post, Frank states, “I wonder what would happen if we gave ourselves blanket permission simply to express who and what we were at any given moment, regardless of what some category called for.”

I wonder too, what would happen, if we could simply find joys in the places where joy calls to us, and not get so hung up on how a certain label defines our actions.

Robin:  There is a certain joy in contemplating how far, over the course of about 30 years since I came out as a gay man, LGBTQIA people have come revrobin2-023in terms of public acceptance. I say this, even though of course there are many obstacles, especially for those groups whose initials follow L and G (but not including A, and recognizing that Gs generally fare better than Ls, due in large measure to misogyny and patriarchy).

I came out to myself and to my then wife 34 years ago (at age 35), after completing my first year of seminary, and then began coming out to others in the seminary community and the wider world. In that same period, I also came out to the priest of the Episcopal Church in Michigan where I had grown up and served as a lay leader. He responded by telling me that he and the Vestry (the church board) no longer supported my seminary education and did not wish for me to darken the doors of the church again (ten years later, they made an exception, when at my sister’s request I preached at our mother’s funeral who had stopped going to the church when they rejected her son–and again eight years after that when I was permitted to speak at the memorial service for my former wife).

I have been actively involved in various religious endeavors to promote LGBTQI equality over all the years since 1982, and in some ways my life feels like a personal version of the larger liberation struggle. Again, the struggle is far from over, but now I find myself engaged, through this blog with Malachi and our monthly teaching through MCC, in a different way,

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one that assumes equality and seeks to widen the conversation so that the entire Christian church (and I pray other religious bodies) becomes more open to and celebratory of all forms of life-affirming, God-given sexuality.

That means that we, Malachi and I, tackle subjects that most people, and certainly the church, tend to ignore and even devalue.

For example, my coming out process allowed me for the first time to experience, and admit, how my desire was impacted by particular characteristics of men. Until I was honest with myself about my powerful attraction to the bodies of men I was unable to acknowledge, let alone celebrate, how certain types of men–their bodies and their minds and personalities–fueled my desire.

When I first came out, certain body characteristics assumed a great importance. I was in my mid-30s and one might have thought I would be more balanced in responses. However, in some ways I was like a teenager finally freed to let my hormones assume full control. Not able to experience honest powerful sexual desire in my teens, I was now like a kid in a candy shop. Frankly, given my sex life in the early days of my newfound sense of self, it is a wonder I am not HIV+. I give God thanks for my health every day.

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I knew right away I liked men with long hair. At the same time, I liked hairless chests and minimal or even hairless (shaved) crotches while I craved hairy legs. One other thing: I discovered that men taller than my 6’2″ frame really drew my attention. I had a desire, even need, to lean into them and be hugged. Who knows where this comes from. It just was, and I still admire that today.

However, it did not take me too long to rebel against a gay male culture I observed, and participated in at times, that made such criteria the only guides for relating to other men.  I learned that finding a man who met at least some of those criteria might make for a fun, even hot, one-night stand of sexual action . . . but then what? Did we have anything to talk about once the deed was done? Did I even want to contemplate breakfast with him?

I also learned that a man I desired might discover, when we were naked, that I did not meet his standards. I had a few such painful times, especially when they discovered the size of my cock.

I have had three male lovers, including my husband of 19 years, who lasted more than a couple of nights. None of them is tall–all three significantly shorter than me. They each had, and still do as far as I am aware (not easily ascertained now with two of them), beautifully hairy legs. One had a pretty hairless chest, but not the other two. No long hair in the bunch, although Jonathan says he had that years before we met; nor did any of them even consider shaving or even shaping their pubic hair. Of course, as above, I am unable (and unwilling) to check on this with numbers one and two; I will say one man–not one of the three–in my earliest times talked about not only trimming his pubic hair but also blow drying and shaping it ever day.  I regret that I  never was able to watch that process.

What I have come to understand over these 34 years is that each of these men whom I desired (and with Jonathan still desire in an incredibly powerful, even overwhelming, way), while physically attractive each in their own way, drew me to them for more than their physical attributes. In this sense, my particular body turn-ons, festishes might be the more

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accurate term, were and are only part of the package.

Each of these men has a brilliant mind, and a very sophisticated sense of humor as well as a willingness to engage difficult questions of morality and values openly and honestly. Don’t get me wrong: I love sex, want to have sex, but sex for me is more than kissing, licking, sucking, fucking, and ejaculation followed by a feeling of peace and joy.

In some ways, sex is how I live; every human encounter, even those with women where my physical desire is not so obvious, has an erotic component. That, for me, is God’s gift to each of us to create connection. I have different kinds of sex with different people, and with a very few–and for 19 years only one–I have engaged in acts of the utmost physical intimacy.

That does not mean that I my head is not turned, or my interest piqued, at times by a tall man at a party or even on the street, or a man whose chest (or more) I see in the gym shower or locker room–a guy, or woman, can be head over heels-in-love (and sex) with one (or more) and still admire others. Frankly, I am glad to know that at 70 years of age I still notice. As I quoted two weeks ago, in “Queer Is a Verb,” Shug said to Celie (in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”), “that’s some of the best stuff God did.”

And that is why I hope and pray that some day we can have open conversations, real sharing, about our personal feelings and desires within communities of faith–because indeed these particularities are part of the gift of God to each of us. Like all gifts of God they deserve to be shared, not shunned or made into nasty secrets that cause us shame.

To do other than celebrate God’s gifts, all of them, is to deny God and the reality that all that draws us to others is God within us.

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think influences your sexuality and sexual expression? Have you ever noticed a deviation from your expectations of your sexuality? Do you find that there are certain traits that turn you on? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginningThursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Unmasking Sex: Performance and Authenticity

Malachi: 

As the Halloween season comes to a close, we’ve seen another13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_n year of dressing up: scary costumes, fun costumes, goofy costumes, themed family costumes, sexy costumes (hopefully limited to adults), and so forth. We’ve seen people become someone else for a day or two: someone that inspired them (I saw quite a few female ghostbusters with steampunk goggles); something they wanted to believe in (a number of classic renditions of devils, angels, witches, etc.); or perhaps someone that they want to be all the time, but can’t (some rockstars, a David Bowie or two, and no shortage of superheroes).

I’ve definitely seen some offensive and problematic costumes as well: people dressed up in “Native” outfits (which are iconic of a whitewashed, Americanized understanding of many cultures, and are particularly offensive right now as protestors are being arrested at Standing Rock); men dressed in beards and a full dress playing “Dude Looks Like A Lady” and mocking non-passing transwomen; kids in blackface. There is a good and a bad side of dressing up, and Halloween inevitably brings out both.

For many, Halloween is a time to put on a mask and become someone (or something) that we aren’t. For others of us, however, it’s a time to unmask, to be who we truly are. For me, I walked around in the clothes I wear every day, plus a little extra makeup. Instead of strange sideways glances and uncomfortable whispers, I got compliments: “Hey, nice costume!”

It’s gotten me thinking about the ways in which we live our lives through performance: performance of gender, performance of faith, the performance of sex. It’s also gotten me thinking about the ways in which performance can be used to mock and even erase the experiences of others, such as some of these offensive Halloween costumes.

Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC Photo Credit Amy O
Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC
Photo Credit Amy O

I’ve been a drag performer. I’m not currently doing shows right now, but I did for six years in North Carolina. Drag, to me, is the performance of gender. Regardless of your body type or assigned sex at birth, any body can perform any kind of gender. I did both king and queen performances; sometimes I did both in the same show.

Drag was a means of exploring gender. It was a way to understand the complexities of gender expectations- everything from how to contour a face for feminine makeup (which meant exploring accepted bone structures and facial highlights associated with typical expectations of feminine beauty) to how men move and dance, every piece of drag requires us to understand the boundaries we are working within. Drag is the performance of gender, and as such, the performance heightens and feeds off of the expectations that are deeply rooted in many of us.

But outside of drag, we still perform gender. It is these exact rituals, in fact, that make drag part of what it is. For women, it’s body hair removal, makeup application, cinching the waist for that perfect hourglass figure. For men, it’s working out, looking buff, growing enough facial hair to prove that you can, having the appearance of a large cock. These are the rituals that are utilized in drag for show, but they are not necessarily less performative when done in daily life.

It is difficult to define what masculinity and femininity mean outside of the gender binary, but we can define what characteristics and traits are important to us because they make us feel good in our bodies, versus those rituals that are done because we are told that that is what “makes a real man” or “makes a real woman.” For example, I have no opinion, issue, or preference with a partner’s body hair grooming practices. I care more that those practices come from their own comfort and love of their bodies, and not from an unspoken rule that certain body parts must be shaved.

Which brings me to the concept of performance of sex. Sometimes, we are sexual when we don’t want to be. I’m not talking about rape; I mean, sometimes, we’re not really feeling it, and our partner is, and we love our partner, so we are intimate when we’d maybe rather go to bed, or finish our book, or any number of things (The Ferret writes a really wonderful post about this here) (and often we get more into it as we get started, but the instigation isn’t necessarily coming from us).

But there is a whole aspect of “performance” that comes into sex… particularly with assigned male at birth individuals who use their penises

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https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all

for sex. In fact, “perform” is often used as a euphemism for “get hard and stay hard for a suitable length of time during which intercourse occurred.” It’s a question sometimes asked of gay men who have (or are) married to women: “Are you able to perform with her?” as though any man who is capable of getting hard and having sex with a woman is automatically “less gay.” As for assigned female at birth people, well… “faking orgasms” is something many women do on a consistent basis. If that’s not the performance of sex, I’m not sure what is.

Attraction, intimacy, connection: these things are so much more than the operational functions of anatomy, and certainly much more than feigning a particular type of enjoyment for your partner’s benefit.

The performance of faith is trickier, because “faith” means something different to each person.  Regardless of how a person relates to their faith, however, we fairly consistently see faith in God as a transformative experience. I personally believe that that type of transformation doesn’t just happen once or twice in a person’s life, but continues to happen as they grow and deepen their understanding of God and their faith.

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https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/60/c4/b1/60c4b14465af7b726c2102ea7cd90c7d.jpg

In that regard, I consider the performance of faith one in which our lives in relation to God have become stagnant. It is a point where we are more focused on the action, rather than the intention and meaning of the action. Are we kind to one another because we truly care for those whose lives have been harder than our own? Or are we kind to people because we have been told that we should be kind?

Like many things, performance isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary… Alcoholics Anonymous discusses the idea of “fake it ‘till you make it.” Sometimes we need to act in certain ways to help our own understanding and belief get there. But sometimes our performances limit, mock, or erase the ability of others to be as authentic as they want to be. We need to be aware and conscious of the intention of our daily rituals, actions, and beliefs… that awareness can be the difference between performative and transformative.

As we close this Halloween season, I challenge all of us to hold onto and be aware of the performances around us every day, including our own. I challenge each of us to close this time of letting go- the essence of Samhain (the pagan tradition from which we draw much of our Halloween inspiration)- by letting go of some of our own masks and performances. I challenge each of us to consider our intentions and goals in the actions we take- particularly the actions we take for granted. Let’s each put our masks down and work to be who we truly are, rather than carry on the performances of who we think we should be.

Robin:

revrobin2-023What does it mean to perform sexually? Is it only when one engages in genitally-focused activity or other erotic behavior? Or is it possible to perform sexually through speech or other communication?  Is it possible that constructing an identity, or at least an image, is an act of sexual performance?

My answer to these somewhat  theoretical questions is “yes.” And it is an answer from my own experience as a male-bodied-from-birth person. That does not mean that my answer is simple, and it involves a fair amount of personal history. And it seems to me that I am not done answering these questions.

In 1974, I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman, Judy. We were blessed to have three wonderful daughters who have grown up to be bright, beautiful, powerful women with families and many achievements.

As a result of claiming my homosexuality and coming out as a gay man, Judy and I separated after nine years and then divorced. We remained loving and caring friends, and although she had primary custody of our girls, we worked together to raise them. Sadly, tragically, she died in 2001.

judy-feeding-the-gulls
Judy did everything with gusto

I can never talk or write for long about sexuality without thinking about Judy. She was a very sexy woman. She deserved a better lover than me. Oh, we had sex, but on my side it was mostly about relieving sexual pressure. I loved her, yes, very much, and she had a beautiful body, a beautiful woman’s body. But I did not crave her body, I did not fantasize about her body when we were apart.

Even so, I constructed a sexual identity as “straight” through a wedding, having sex with Judy, and eventually in helping to produce children.

At the same time, I fantasized about various male bodies. I bought a subscription to Playgirl, claiming it was for her (she showed little interest, and did not renew it) but really because I wanted to ogle the naked men.

I should have known long before that I was gay. I did not date girls in high school and had a major crush on a male friend and lesser ones on others, went through extensive psychoanalysis in college, and put off having sex with a woman for quite a few years. Still, I performed as a straight male.

Much of my failure to claim my  gay identity had to do with society—I was a good boy and did not want to make others angry or bothered, and until I got to college I did not know any openly homosexual person—but it is not so simple.

I am more sexually fluid than a label reflects.

julie-andrews-mannishI am not bisexual. I have a clear attraction to men. But I also find some women attractive, and have sexual thoughts about some of them. At the same time, there are limits (including that I am happily monogamous with my husband!).

I have never had sex with a woman that involved more than the “missionary position.” I tried oral sex, but I gagged (definitely not true with men).  So my performance has its limits, but only the couple of women I have slept with would know that for sure.

But my sexual antennae are not always fixed firmly on the gay wavelength. Admittedly, the women I find most alluring often appear somewhat boyish, and transgender men can sometimes move the needle on my attraction dial.

Sexual attraction is, at least for me and I think many if not most others, is not solely about genitals. My husband of 19 years said he was first most attracted to my brain (now he seems to like my body, too!).  Some people are drawn to legs (I really like hairy legs), others to height or the lack thereof, or breasts big and breasts small, chest hair or no chest hair, particular ass shape and sizes, etc.

I loved Judy for her vibrant personality, her laugh, her instinctive kindness and generosity, and I liked her well-curved body, too. Or maybe I liked that other men admired it, and that made me feel good……..these things are often complicated.

kinsey-scale-visual-male-guide
accidentalbear.com

In reality, many of us fall at less than absolute points on Kinsey’s famous (and I think less useful than it used to be) scale and our location can even change. Earlier, others would have classified me as a Zero (exclusively heterosexual, unless you count the one time I engaged in mutual masturbation with a male friend in high school), and now, since 1983, I would be a Kinsey Six (exclusively homosexual).  Does that make me a 5 (incidental heterosexual behavior ) overall?

No. Judy was not incidental in my life. She was, and is, even now, central to who I am and have become. As surely Jonathan is, and has been, for 19 years.

I have two friends, Arlene and Tom (names changed), who have been married for about 10 years. Arlene used to be married to a wonderful “butch” lesbian, Melody. Sadly, Melody died. A couple of years later, Arlene and Tom found each other. Some friends objected, saying Arlene had abandoned Melody. I said I thought love was what counts. Arlene told me that Tom was Melody with “different plumbing.”  I understood her to be telling me that she found a beautiful spirit in him that reminded her of her old love. She clearly loves Tom for who he is and vice versa; they are a lovely couple.

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vibrantheartyoga.com

I understand this. If something awful should happen and I would be without Jonathan, who knows who, if anyone, would become central in my life? Would I seek a partner again? If so, it likely would be a male, but that is not certain. And maybe I would decide to stay single. Whatever the outcome, I assure you, though I am 70 years of age, I will perform sexually in some ways or others—certainly by talking and writing about it, self-pleasuring, and continuing to figure out, and live out, perform, my sexual identity/identities.

As our transgender siblings are showing us, lots of things we thought were fixed are more complicated—and it is not just about bathrooms. Creation, especially humanity, is not easily locked into categories; scientists know that there are always exceptions to hard rules.  Creation is bigger than all of our boxes, and so are our bodies and psyches and souls. As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . “ (139:14)

That’s surely me, and you, too, and everybody who wonderfully and fearlessly (at least bravely) crosses boundaries and concepts that inadequately describe our full, beautiful, complex humanity. The great thing about life is that it always demands performance, and we get to choose, if we wish, which roles to play . . . and how to play them.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about performance, particularly in regards to sexuality? How can we challenge ourselves to be more authentic while recognizing performance is an important aspect of our lives? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginning Thursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

We’ve Got Some Skin in the Game

by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction: We have been writing lately about sex, and about sexual freedom (including its limits). But this blog is also about bodies, and we have mentioned them pretty much only in the context of sex and sexual activities. But bodies are far more than instruments of sex and sexuality.

From the moment of birth to the moment of death, we live in and through our bodies. The English language makes it possible to speak of our bodies as if we are separate, can stand apart, from our bodies, and yet the reality is we are our bodies.  Wherever we are, there are our bodies. Without them, we are not.

And yet, most all of us have conflicts about our bodies—too fat, too tall, too short, too thin, breasts too big or not, penises too small or not, sagging skin as we age, bald or hairy, big hips or small, big noses or not, thick lips or thin, etc. And most people are not keen on showing off our naked bodies to others, surely not in places more public than locker rooms (and the trend today is against what used to be called “gang showers” where everybody stood under nozzles in one big room, divided by gender, of course). It was not all that long ago that men and boys swam naked at YMCAs, but today such an idea would result in wholesale condemnation.

What is it about the naked human body that scares so many of us? Why is it that the sight of a naked toddler running around at the beach is considered adorable, but the sight of an adult, or even an older child or teen, doing the same thing is considered scandalous, rude, offensive, even ugly? And why is it illegal in almost every public place? Who and what are we protecting? In this post, Robin and Malachi explore both their relationships with nudity as well as discuss the social climate and response toward bodies in various stages of undress.

revrobin2-023Robin: For Christians and Jews, biblical texts carry weight. “God saw that it was good,” is the divine response recorded in the Book of Genesis in response to creation. And then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” . . . . and “God blessed them . . . .” and “God saw that everything God had made, and indeed it was very good.” The website Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica makes many of these points more fully, albeit with a more conservative biblical worldview and without recognizing sexuality other that the hetero- variety or gender outside the usual binary.

Created in the image of God, and yet we hide, as if somehow we are ashamed of God, ashamed of our lineage, afraid to show our part of the divine image and afraid to see others (even as we are often titillated by images of naked bodies). We have taken the lesson from the second chapter of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve violate the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and discover they are naked, cover themselves, confess to God what they have done, and are punished by God for it.  We continue their cover-up down to this day.

But why?

In 2016, I still see news stories about someone being scandalized at a

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https://i.ytimg.com/vi/wqvc16nXl-Y/maxresdefault.jpg

mother exposing her nipples in public while breastfeeding an infant. Sadly, this most beautiful and loving of human encounters is turned into something morally unclean.

And, the campaign for “top equality,” letting women go topless the same way men do, shocks many. Their objections often take on the tone of “how dare people upset this ancient standard.” Yet, it is not so long ago—in the 1930s and 1940s—that men were freed to bare our nipples and even go shirtless.

The outrage over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show of the SuperBowl in 2004 now seems dated, and yet I still hear of people who belittle her because of it. Network television went through periods of great controversy about showing naked rear ends, but now we can see naked everything on some cable shows.  In some European countries, television is not restricted.

And the controversy over sexting reveals a cross-current of emotions and attitudes. In terms of sending nude images or sexually explicit images (these are not necessarily the same thing), consent is the primary issue in

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https://www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/sexting-scrabble-1140×641.jpg

many instances, and those under 18 are generally considered unable to give consent to receive or send any such images. Many observers also note that the usual gender divide operates in sexting: it is more acceptable for men to send these images than women. The ease with which phones and their cameras can make it easy to take nude pictures of oneself and/or of one’s spouse or partner or even friends has resulted in an increase of non-professional nude images easily available on the internet and elsewhere. Some of this is simply part of the sexual lives of lovers/spouses. But because there are people who exploit others, and because sexting often involves nude bodies, there is considerable social conflict.

I have been undergoing changes in my own practices of late. It is not that I have not enjoyed being naked with others, and by myself, in the past.

I remember growing up in the country—fifty acres of mostly fields and forest, with a few of them taken up with my father’s nursery and our home and outbuildings. Sometimes, in the summer, when I was home alone (probably age 12 and up), I would take off my clothes and run around our back yard. And, on occasion, I would head to the “back 40” and find a good spot to be naked (and try not to get eaten up by mosquitoes).

This might have given me some clue that I harbored nudist proclivities, but it has taken a long time for me to recognize it and really own it. That is not to say I have not been naked around others (in addition to gym changing and showers in school) at times in the years between then and now—clothing optional beaches and swimming, Radical Faerie gatherings (where I met the man who eventually became my husband, Jonathan), and one visit to a nudist gathering in Maine.

But today, I enjoy being naked in our home. And I realize I would like to be publicly naked in more places than beaches and social groups where it is permitted. It is not so much the thrill of it, although at times the feeling of freedom can make me giddy (see “Baring My Body, Opening My Soul” about my experience of naked yoga), as it is simply feeling centered and good in my body. And, as regular readers of this blog know, this freedom has helped me come to terms with my small penis, and to actually begin to appreciate it (and not simply endure it as I use it for peeing and pleasure).

One of the reasons I began this blog was to explore questions of nudity, specifically to help create conversation that is thoughtful and non-exploitative, for myself and for others. I recognize that most of us get naked to share sexually with our partner(s), but as the organized nudist/naturist movement never tires of saying, nudity does not equal sex. Just because people are naked does not mean they want to have sex.

Many of us are naked, enjoy being naked, because it feels good. I am

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https://gapyear.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/content/14.09.18.hw.dp.NHSMoldenNorway_582_388.jpg

learning to like my body, in all its particularities, and I feel more whole as a result. For the first time, recently, I wrote a sermon while naked;  I think it helped me be more honest and clear. Part way through the first period of writing, it occurred to me that this may be how God sees me ordinarily—and that helped me feel the divine presence more than usual while composing the text. I somehow doubt God is all that interested in my clothing, but I am quite sure God is interested in the real me.

So, I am now ready to call myself a nudist, or a naturist—I have yet to make a final choice among these too, but I think I lean toward nudist, because I want to be really clear about my identity (while recognizing no part of identity is probably ever entirely clear and fixed). That is the reason I chose a very clear title for this blog—no obfuscation, masks, or euphemisms.

I am blessed to have a husband who, while not joining me in this identity or behavior (except at the beach and during our love-making), appreciates the sight of my naked body as we navigate life at home. I am really enjoying his positive, and playful, comments.

Now, if I thought my neighbors and townspeople would do the same…..that might begin to feel a bit like Eden. But that is not to be, at least yet!

If there are readers, however, who share, or want to share, in the nudist life with me, let me know. Perhaps we can find time and space for mutual care, support, and society.

Malachi GrennellMalachi:

I like the way the sun feels on my skin. But more than that, I like the way that I feel in my skin when I am in spaces where nudity is an accepted aspect of the space. In fact, I often find that my lower back begins to hurt after several days of being in clothing-optional environments because I am actually standing up straight, and the muscles in my back are not used to good posture. That’s true of a lot of transmasculine people- posture issues arise from slouching shoulders forward to conceal breast tissue. While I’m not ashamed of my breasts, sometimes, I need to find a bathroom to use, and have to “pass” as something. When I’m in clothing-optional spaces, I find that my posture is better and I hold my head high and push my shoulders back.

I have not spent time in nudist cultures, but I understand that the lack of clothing does not create a sexualized environment. My experiences being naked in public, however, are within sexualized spaces: several times a year, I attend a BDSM/kink-focused event that allows for public nudity (as well as public sex). By attending these events, people understand that they will be encountering all types of bodies in all states of dress (or undress). I recognize, as a result, that my relationship with nudity may be impacted by that difference in sexualization, and I absolutely do not claim to speak for nudist culture- simply my relationship to being naked in a semi-public space. Right now, I am gearing up for one of these events coming up soon, and I can’t help thinking about my relationship with nudity- and more than just nudity, but my relationship with revealing aspects of my skin as the weather makes a sudden turn toward summer.

I have fairly prominent facial hair, as well as a decently large chest. As we approach summer (or, in the case of this year, make a sudden pivot from freezing rain to August heat), I have the think very carefully about my safety when navigating the juxtaposition of these two gendered characteristics. If I wear shirts that reveal “too much” cleavage, then I am at a much higher risk for violence: especially if people can’t tell “what” I am. Yet I don’t tend to like clothes that come up too high on my neck; they make me feel like I’m being choked (not in a good way) and besides, I like the feeling of the sun hitting my shoulders and the top of my chest.

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http://ih2.redbubble.net/image.12298463.0857/pp,375×360.jpg

It’s one of the downsides of so much media around trans people and trans bodies. All of a sudden, everyone has an opinion about bodies like mine- not just about bathrooms, but about how we should transition and present ourselves. People with the best of intentions will still say things like, “Well, if you would just wear clothes that didn’t reveal your shape…” or “I’m fine with people who want to transition, but these confused people who are ‘in the middle’ need to pick a side.”  Comments like this tell me that if only I was the “right” kind of trans…

…then what? I’m never quite sure how that sentence ends, but the insinuation is that I “ask for” or “invite” the harassment and comments by the way I present myself. If I could just pass a little more, people wouldn’t even notice my breasts. If I could just… look like one gender, then there wouldn’t be any problems. In short: if I could be a little more inauthentic for everyone else’s comfort.

But the reality is, I like wearing some women’s clothes, especially shirts. They make me feel good, and I’m not ashamed of my breasts, and I have a nice, curvy figure that, if only I would shave off this beard and various instances of body hair, would make me a very beautiful woman (by young, white, slender, able-bodied standards of beauty). But since I went on testosterone to be able to grow facial hair (and I’m actually quite attached to my beard), wearing the shirts I want to wear reveals a part of my body that puts me at risk for violence. And society tells me that it’s my fault.

Perhaps this is why I prefer spaces where clothing is optional. Because while I might be as much of an anomaly there as I am in the rest of the world, I don’t feel this strange division to hide certain parts while revealing others when, quite frankly, my entire body is fetishized and sexualized on a daily basis. In fact, I feel more sexualized walking down the street fully clothed on an average day than I do walking around completely naked with 1,000 strangers at a BDSM-focused retreat. And perhaps that’s where my frustration comes in: if I’m going to be sexualized anyway, then why do I have to put on these clothes that feel restrictive and sometimes bulky and are so dang hot? If people are going to wonder what’s in my pants regardless, then why bother wearing pants? I feel like I am being undressed in the minds of others, but don’t get any of the benefits of being naked.

Of course, I understand why that’s not a viable option. Not everyone is comfortable with public nudity, and, as Robin and I discussed last week, we must be sure that our expressions of sexual freedom do not minimize or infringe on someone else’s experiences. But as a non-binary trans person, I just get so frustrated. Come to think of it, as a human being, I get frustrated. How much skin is too much? The answer to that is so full

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of double standards and hypocritical nonsense, I’m not sure where to start. Nipples of people who either (a) have a penis attached to their bodies or (b) have had reconstructive surgery to remove the mammary tissue are fine for public consumption, but nipples attached to people without penises who have not had reconstruction surgery are NOT OK- even while breastfeeding (which is what nipples are for…) Women go to swimming pools and beaches in bikinis, but if she answered the door in a bra and underwear, that would be totally inappropriate. Men are expected to have a certain amount of body hair (because body hair=testosterone=masculine), but women are expected to shave it off (and those who don’t often become targets of ridicule and some will choose to cover their armpits and legs to avoid the judgement). Armpits and legs. These are not inherently sexualized parts of the body (although some do find them sexy or sexual). Even women who adhere to the strictest of body expectations and standards are then treated as walking sexual objects- and it’s “her fault” because, of course, why else would someone want to look like that unless she was wanting attention?

Knowing that people who are comfortable, for the most part, with the binary dichotomies and standards often can’t win the “how much skin is too much skin?” fight reminds me that I am not alone in this- but there is also a twinge of despair in there. “If cis-folks can’t just exist in the world without people policing their bodies and using their bodies to blame and shame them,” I think, “how can I ever hope to?” And maybe I can’t. Sometimes, with a body configured the way that mine is, with an identity that manifests the way that mine does, every action I take with my body- from using a public bathroom to getting dressed and going to the supermarket- feels like a revolutionary action, simply because it is being done by this body, and this body (clothed or otherwise) has to fight for a space to exist. And sometimes, I get tired of being a revolutionary just because I woke up

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MSt3OAwlDKk/UpBCbz1dfYI/AAAAAAAAAJU/g5CQpoO5Vx0/s1600/tdor.png
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MSt3OAwlDKk/UpBCbz1dfYI/AAAAAAAAAJU/g5CQpoO5Vx0/s1600/tdor.png

and left my house (instead of actually doing something revolutionary). So I seek respite and reprieve where I can. And if kink camp is the space where I feel completely comfortable in my body and in my skin, where my back hurts because my posture is finally amazing, where I have to use sunblock for once in my life because the breasts and my butt are the only parts of my body at risk of burning, then I go to kink camp.

Certainly, this is not the experience of every trans person. Binary or non-binary, I know plenty of trans people who don’t feel comfortable being naked in public. My relationship with my body as a trans person is unique, and I would be curious to see how I would feel in a nudist space that was not inherently sexual in nature. Nonetheless, though, my experience as a trans person cannot be separated from my relationship with nudity because both require an element of examination of internal comfort and external presentation.

It’s about nudity, but it’s about more than nudity. It’s about an understanding that my body is really not that strange, although living in this world would have many believe otherwise. It’s about claiming that space, not because I am so interesting, but because every body is interesting- your body, and mine, and the person next door, and Robin’s and whomever- all bodies are interesting and beautiful. Being able to be naked- whether the space is inherently sexual or not- takes away the shock of people being naked which, in turn, means people stop fixating on what’s between people’s legs and start wondering more about what’s inside people’s heads.

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